What the ‘f’ is wrong with being polite?

08 August, 2017

Couple of months back Sam Smith’s Brewery in Yorkshire, England, issued an instruction to its 200 or so pub managers to refuse to serve customers who swore in their pubs.

The move earned the brewery considerable media coverage, much of it ridiculing brewery owner Humphrey Smith for such a draconian and Victorian-like edict. But the staff weren’t laughing. Humphrey’s not the sort of guy you mess with – it’s said he visits pubs in disguise and is uncompromising if he does not find service exactly as he wants it.

There are two branches to the Smith family. Humphrey’s lot, who inherited the Sam Smith’s Brewery, and the Riley-Smiths, who built the John Smith’s brewery, a far bigger and commercially more successful operation.

How exactly the Riley-Smiths did that is a subject of great rancour and bitterness – the two branches of the family have been estranged for generations and continue to be. The two brewery operations couldn’t be more different. On the Samuel Smith website under ‘pubs’ the company quotes George Orwell’s view of a perfect pub from his essay The Moon Under Water, and states: “Samuel Smith’s pubs accord with his ideal in several ways:

• The architecture and fittings must be uncompromisingly Victorian

• Games, such as darts, are only played in the public bar so that in other bars you can walk about without the worry of flying darts

• The pub is quiet enough to talk, with the house possessing neither a radio nor a piano (we do not have music or TVs in our pubs)

• The barmaids know the customers by name and take an interest in everyone

• A creamy sort of draught stout

• In winter there is generally a good fire burning in at least two of the bars

In this context, then, a ban on swearing isn’t so ridiculous. In fact, it’s completely in keeping with the sort of English pub Humphrey Smith wants to operate. What’s wrong with that?

We recently attended a steam fair in Norfolk on England’s east coast, a quintessentially English rural event, with vintage tractors, cars and motorbikes; craft stalls, exhibitions and fish & chips, real ale and cider bars, and marquees serving tea and coffee. We decided to cap the day off with a pint at a nearby pub, treating the children to a cola.

What a mistake. Two men were having a discussion where every other word began with ‘f’. They took no notice when we arrived with our 11-year-old daughter and made no attempt to tone down their language in our presence.

Have we forgotten basic standards? And isn’t respect and an adherence to a minimum standard of behaviour something we should encourage and not mock?

In Britain pubs are struggling, yet there has never been a better time to enjoy a whole range of crafted and well-made drinks products. Gin has feminised the world of spirits, and the producers of stylish tonic Fever Tree have played an immense role in encouraging drinkers to trade up. We’re drinking less but better. If pubs want to be part of this brave world isn’t Humphrey Smith’s move to go back to the future to be applauded? I for one am converted.

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